In his final moments, Scarlett Lewis's son Jesse was a hero who saved children before losing his life. For Lewis who founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, her son is remembered on this seventh anniversary of Sandy Hook, not for his murder, but for the message he brought to the world of Nurturing Healing Love.
The words were found written on a kitchen chalkboard by Jesse's mother sometime after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. Saturday is the seventh anniversary of the murders of 20 first-grade students and six staff members.
The gunman first killed his mother at their Newtown home, then drove to the school to carry out the massacre, then shot himself. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
Scarlett Lewis has forgiven him, she told Daily Voice Plus in an interview this week.
She'll spend Saturday morning at a counseling center in Newtown then go to Jesse's grave in the afternoon.
Lewis described Jesse as "incredibly courageous" and "wise beyond his years. He was strong. He had an incredible sense of humor and was confident, likable, and kissable and huggable."
She talked about the six-year-old's heroism and the meaning behind his inspirational Nurturing Healing Love message.
Jesse courageously saved nine of his classmates’ lives by shouting "run" when the shooter's gun jammed, and they all ran.
Her work for the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is "the right thing to do. I think its honoring and remembering and being part of the solutions because this isn't something that was a one-time deal. People think about it. They're anxious about it. By the way, you know there will be another one. Two thousand eighteen was the deadliest year on record of a school shooting with 37 victims," Lewis said.
She worries where and when the next shooting will happen and about children growing up isolated.
"It could be anywhere. Kids graduate with isolation, (having) suffered bullying. The trauma doesn't go away when they graduate. Then we see violence in our world everywhere. You can't say, 'Oh, it's in schools, it's not going to impact me.' It can impact us all. All the finger-pointing, the blaming, the taking sides has not helped. It has not brought us to a conclusion. The issues are intensifying. The whole point of The Yearbook is to remind people this problem isn't going away," said Lewis.
She also talked about her son's "murder" and the man who killed Jesse. "The student was a human being in pain. But absolutely when I saw the nurturing, healing, love message, I thought, if he (the shooter) had been able to give and receive nurturing, healing, love, the tragedy wouldn't have happened. I knew I would spend my life spreading that," Lewis related.
After Jesse's mother found her son's message, she consulted Western Connecticut State University Professor of Political Science Christopher Kukk, Ph.D. He is founding Director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation at WCSU, and serves on the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement board of directors.
"I knew what it meant to me and wondered if there was a deeper meaning," Scarlett Lewis continued.
Kukk researched the definition of compassion and found that those three words - nurturing, healing love - across all cultures, are a "powerful and profound formula for choosing love in any situation and circumstance," she said.
"(Kukk) wrote the proprietary neuroscience program for the Choose Love Enrichment Program. The basis of it is called social-emotional learning. This cultivates safety from the inside out, so every child and every school must have these internal safety measures to have a safe school," said Lewis. The program is taught in 5 percent of schools and in every state and 90 countries, "all over the world," she added.
Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, so-called "because we are a movement that we spread through volunteers who understand the importance of what we're doing. A lot of them are parents. They go into their schools and they ask, 'Hey, so we have social-emotional learning' ?'"
According to Lewis, only 10 percent of schools have a "comprehensive social-emotional program taught with fidelity. This means embraced by all." She said many schools say they have it but in reality, they refer to perhaps a one-week "kindness program," one example Lewis gave.
Parents need to know the difference, she continued. "They need to ask their schools, how often is it taught. You need to make sure that it's comprehensive and really cultivates a change of culture in order to enhance school safety."
Asked why she thinks 6-year-old Jesse wrote his "nurturing, healing, love" message, Lewis reflected. "I believe he had a spiritual awareness that he wasn't going to be around much longer and wanted to leave a message for his family and friends as comfort. And he wanted to leave a message to the world," she said.
Lewis added that "We need to choose love. The (message) is the formula for choosing love. It starts with courage. An amazing example is Jesse's courage he showed in his final moments. When he stood up to the shooter when the shooter's gun jammed, and he was able to save nine classmates' lives before losing his own."
"He was a six-year-old boy but courage is like a muscle. We all have it. We have to practice it. Those are not kid-centric things."
Jesse had a brother, J.T. Lewis, now 19, who is running for state senate in Connecticut, Scarlett Lewis said. "He has very much grown into a sense of responsibility for school safety."
She also talked about the gunman's mother, who was his first shooting victim, Nancy Lanza. He shot her at their Newtown home before he drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School that day.
"His mother was completely isolated. No one helped her so she was alone dealing with her son. After the shooting, we had the audacity to point a finger at the shooter and his mom, yet she was not helped in any way. He had needs that were known and not addressed. For me, I thought about it. It's way too easy to blame him and his mom. We have to take responsibility for what we have to do."
On Saturday, Scarlett Lewis said she will spend the entire morning at the Resiliency Center of Newtown "receiving therapy"— a non-profit that offers healing to anyone impacted by the tragic events of December 14, 2012—and in the afternoon, I'm going to be meeting my family. We're going to be meeting up at Jesse's gravesite honoring and remembering him."
Lewis appeared on the Today Show Friday, Dec. 13 to talk about The 2020 Yearlong Project. It addresses the importance of a connected and compassionate school culture on school safety; what the anniversary of Jesse's murder means to her family, the state, and the nation.
She added the sadness is "always with you. The loss never goes away. The only way I have been able to take my personal power back, to continue to live my life with relative normalcy and happiness is through forgiveness."
Click here to learn about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement.